(This is the second of today’s two NCS reviews of A Fragile King. The author of this one is Islander.)
Much has already been written, including in our own articles at this site, about what prompted Greg Mackintosh to write Vallenfyre’s music and to bring his friends together to record it. But although the album may have been born from the death of Mackintosh’s father, A Fragile King is anything but sentimental.
At a time when the most popular death metal is all about flash and speed, sonic firestorms calculated to make jaws drop in wonder at the performers’ technical wizardry, Vallenfyre throw themselves back in time to recapture the gory glory of European death metal in its early days, when young dudes who would become legendary were prowling the musical landscape under names like Nihilist, Dismember, and Bolt Thrower. Communing with those grisly spirits, Vallenfyre have produced a master work of doom-shrouded, early-days death metal.
The album owes its success as much to tone as to style. The bass and rhythm guitar are tuned low and heavily distorted, producing that beautifully raw, crushing, gut-churning tone of giant chainsaws cutting through dense old wood. The higher-register (but still distorted) guitar leads and solos provide a piercing contrast to all that mammoth grinding — but the sound is no less ill. The beautifully crafted leads and solos writhe and squirm and bore into the skull like overheated brain drills, the insidiousness of radiation sickness compared to the blown-transformer buzz of the other stringed instruments, but equally deadly.
The percussion rhythms are also something of a throw-back. With minimal use of blast-beats and double-bass, Adrian Erlandsson enlivens the music with fills that are as interesting as they are remorseless (and, of course, we get a healthy serving of tasty d-beats, too). And then, there are Greg Macktintosh’s vocals . . .